Originally published in the Haitian Times by Sam Bojarski
Governments around the world have recommended social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus. That’s a tougher sell in Haiti, where millions must venture out to public markets each day to buy food.
In a country where over half the population lives on less than $2 dollars per day, the spread of coronavirus has made life even more precarious, months after anti-government protests ground normal life to a halt.
“Haitian people live daily,” said Kerventz Sylus, a 25-year-old foreign language instructor who lives in Thomassin, a mountainous suburb outside Port-au-Prince.
“As a teacher when school is closed now, I’m not going to get paid, I stay home. And the government doesn’t tell what it’s going to do for the private (school) teachers,” he added, in response to government-mandated school closures due to coronavirus.
Even before the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in Haiti, people began stocking up on food. Earlier this month, Sylus recounted seeing long lines at a public market in the Delmas 95 neighborhood. Vendors, he recalled, were completely sold out within six hours.
The worst fears of many Haitians were realized when the country recorded its first two positive cases of coronavirus on March 19. By March 24, the number of confirmed cases had risen to six and climbing daily.
Food prices began skyrocketing well before then, aggravating the country’s economic circumstances, as people used whatever means they had to purchase essentials. Large sections of the diaspora, which sends about $2 billion per year in remittances so Haitians can buy basic goods, have seen their own livelihoods impacted by the economic slowdown coronavirus has wrought in the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition to cost-of-living increases, coronavirus is “laying bare the existing gaps within Haiti’s current health system capacity” and demonstrating the need for more investment in social services, according to Franciska Lucien, executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
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